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Va. school districts apologize for weather difficulties

Some parents disagreed with the decision to keep schools open. (WTO/Kristi King)

WASHINGTON — After what some are calling one of the worst commutes in recent memory, Fairfax County, Loudoun County and Arlington County public schools all issued apologies to parents Tuesday.

All three school systems opened on time and did not delay their openings when the snow started, leading people to question the decisions.

Fairfax County Public School bus on the sidewalk
A Fairfax County Public School bus is seen on the sidewalk in McLean. (Courtesy Kathy Kemeny)

Teachers and parents questioned the decision, saying that driving in the snow put teachers and young drivers in dangerous situations.

“We apologize for any inconvenience, but the timing of this was the worst possible situation we could have imagined,”  Assistant Superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools Jeffrey Platenberg told WTOP.

Administrators expected a dusting, but were surprised when the snow came down heavy and traffic became a major issue, Platenberg says. 

Platenburg says things were already in motion and changing the plan late in the game would have been a bigger inconvenience for parents who had already left the house.

Here is the apology Fairfax County Public Schools issued Tuesday afternoon. It was the second apology they posted:

Dear Parents: It is clear that our decision to keep schools open today was the wrong call given the intensity of this weather system. We are very sorry for that. We have heard from many of our families and we are listening. We thank you for your patience and working with us through this very difficult circumstance. Student safety is always our first priority in determining whether to open or close schools. We will dismiss schools at their normal times this afternoon. Although weather and road conditions are improving, we do anticipate that some of our buses will experience additional delays transporting students home. As we indicated to you earlier, if you wish to pick up your child early, please feel free to make those arrangements with your school. SACC centers will be open today until 6:15 p.m. –their regular closing time. SACC administrators request parents make every effort to pick up children earlier, if possible.

We appreciate the many teachers and school staff members that worked diligently to get our schools ready. We have also heard that many parents volunteered to help the schools welcome our students.

Our focus now is to get our students and staff home safely this afternoon. Students who were unable to get to school today will be given excused absences.

Please know we will be going over our procedures and processes to make every improvement possible to avoid the situation we encountered this morning. We are closely monitoring the weather conditions and will make a decision with regard to schools opening tomorrow and will let families know, through our normal communication processes, as soon as possible.

Fairfax County Public Schools

FCPS did cancel all Tuesday evening activities.

Fairfax County schools also later sent a note to district teachers informing them that those who were unable to reach their schools will not be penalized. They will be granted an administrative leave for the day.

The full email:

Dear FCPS Employees:

We appreciate that many teachers and other FCPS employees braved difficult road conditions and treacherous weather to arrive at schools and offices today to serve our students and community. You allowed us to have our schools and offices ready to welcome students and staff.

We understand that under certain circumstances some employees were unable to report to work today. Those employees will be granted administrative leave for today. This means you will not be charged sick, personal, or annual leave. If you had pre-approved leave, you will also be granted administrative leave.

For those employees who did report to work today, January 6, 2015, you will be granted a day of administrative leave to be used at some time during the remainder of this school year. As with any other personal or annual leave, this day of administrative leave should be coordinated and approved by your principal or program manager in advance.

Instructions regarding time and attendance submissions for today will be sent to the Time and Attendance processor at your school or office location.

Our employees are our greatest asset, and we value your hard work and dedication. We thank you for all you do.

Karen Garza
Superintendent of Schools

On Twitter, FCPS did take some heat when people started tweeting photos using the #closeFCPS. Some of tweets showed school buses that were stuck.

In Loudoun County, schools spokesman Wade Byard says the school system made the decision to remain open at 4:30 a.m. after checking several weather services and after 18 people who check road conditions for the schools checked in.

“Obviously, in the next couple of hours the forecast changed radically,” Byard says,.

“By that time, we were well into motion with our bus routes, staff coming in. When you have kids in school, that’s the safest place for them to be. If you make a sudden decision to cancel school you leave a lot of parents without childcare and a lot more confusion. There is no really easy decision at that point,” Byard says.

“We’re human. We’re not perfect and we’re hearing about it now.”

Here is the apology from Loudoun County Public  Schools:

“We apologize for the difficulties the weather caused this morning. After careful consideration of all available information, including advanced weather forecasts and real-time monitoring of road conditions across the county, LCPS made an early morning decision to keep schools open Tuesday, January 6th. 

Clearly, the conditions became far worse than anticipated. Students are safest at school when parents have not had a chance to make alternate plans for their child’s return home. At this time, we are planning to dismiss schools at their normal dismissal time. However, all after-school activities are cancelled for this afternoon and evening.

LCPS regrets any confusion or stress today’s decisions may have caused. Student and staff safety remains our top priority and policy and procedures around closure and delay decision-making will be reviewed and enhanced using lessons learned today.”

Byard says 15 bus drivers did stop their buses when they encountered conditions they questioned.

“They didn’t get into trees or ditches. They just stopped because they felt uncomfortable,” he says, adding that a supervisor went out and helped the drivers.

“We had no buses that were involved in accidents that couldn’t keep going. We did have some people who were nervous. We got them help when they needed it,” Byard says.

Alexandria City Public Schools also remained open. The school system will not record student absences for the day, according to an announcement on ACPS website.

Here is the message:

“Today’s weather situation was one that required patience and flexibility. ACPS makes a decision to delay or close school before 5 a.m. with the best information available at that time. We deeply appreciate parent phone calls and emails that let us know of their concerns related to unplowed and untreated streets, which made travel to bus stops and school difficult, and in some cases, impossible. Always, the safety of our students is our top priority. For this reason, ACPS will not be recording student absences for Tuesday, Jan. 6. Thank you again for support and understanding.”

Arlington County Public schools also remained open, but later issued an apology to parents: 

We apologize for the problems this morning’s decision to stay open caused our APS community. Members of our staff were monitoring the situation very early this morning. The decision to open was made with the best information we had at that time. However, weather conditions changed during the morning hours and there was a greater accumulation of snow than had been forecast.

Weather conditions are expected to improve around midday. At this time, we are planning to dismiss schools at their normal dismissal time today. This will give road crews additional time to treat the main arteries throughout the county. We expect that there will be some transportation delays again this afternoon, and some bus stops on side streets may not be accessible. The Extended Day Program will stay open until 6:00 p.m., but families are being asked to try to pick up students earlier if possible.

We believe that students are safest at school when parents have not had a chance to make alternate plans for their child’s return home from school. We also want to give public safety crews time to work to improve road conditions throughout the county. However, families who prefer to pick up their children early today are welcome to do so.

This evening, all APS after-school and evening activities and events have been canceled, including extracurricular activities, interscholastic contests, team practices, field trips, adult and community education classes, and programs in schools and on school grounds. For updates about Pool Operations, go to www.apsva.us/aquatics. For information about Arlington County programs and operations go to www.arlingtonva.us.

Again, we apologize for the difficulties experienced by all of our families, students and staff this morning and we thank you for your patience.

Arlington Public Schools

The Prince William County public schools also released a statement regarding its closure and delay policy.

The Anne Arundel County public schools also released a statement regarding its policies on closures.

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